A great deal of my time over the past months, and indeed for my remaining two months in Canada, has been and will be focused on down-sizing, purging our household belongings and bringing the contents down to just what we will take with us to Hong Kong. This essentially means taking 2,500 sq ft of living space plus a generous-sized yard and bringing it all down to what will fit into a 1,100 sq ft, two-bedroom apartment with no balcony and virtually no storage space. While we don’t know for sure that this will be the configuration of our housing in Hong Kong, it is probably pretty close based on the apartments we have seen in our price range. I estimate I am down-sizing to about one-third of our possessions.
We decided not to put anything into storage. Storage is expensive and we don’t expect to come back to Ottawa, so we would still have to deal with those things after Paul’s contract ends in three years. Furthermore, people sometimes forget what they have in storage, or find that it doesn’t fit their new place, or that they don’t like it anymore. Add up the cost of storage space over a number of years, and how much is that couch really worth? So purging and down-sizing has become a major component of our great Hong Kong adventure.
I started the great purge in February, right after we announced our move. The first phase was purging to get the house ready for sale. This meant giving away/selling a few pieces of furniture, but especially working through our storage areas to make them presentable and ready to receive our 1) stuff to take; 2) stuff to store; 3) stuff to sell; and 4) stuff to give away. It took me about five weeks to get through that first phase, which included working on other areas of the house affected by the re-painting we did as part of our staging.
I should mention too that we cannot take any electronic items with us. Hong Kong has different voltage so, with rare exceptions, everything electrical has to go. I will really miss my great coffee-maker and Miele vacuum cleaner (very gently used) among dozens of other electronic devices.
There are items such as family photos, keepsakes and business files that we cannot give away and won’t have room to take with us. Thanks to Paul’s sister in Waterloo (which is a six-hour drive from here), we were able to store about 20 boxes with her. So the second phase was preparing those items, which we delivered a couple of weeks before Paul left for Hong Kong permanently. And now I am in the third and final phase of the great purge in which I am getting rid of the last items, including outdoor furniture and accessories, tools, some furniture and household items. This has become my full-time job. The pay is not so great.
The idea of just getting a great big dumpster was and continues to be hugely appealing. But if there is a hard way of doing things, I will find it, so the dumpster was not an option. Also, I happen to believe strongly in re-purposing and recycling, so I have become more familiar than I ever wanted to be with selling and free-cycling options. For what it’s worth, here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Getting rid of old files and sensitive documents: I had about 25 boxes of this type of thing, so getting rid of those was my first task. I found a fantastic service in Ottawa called Shred-It and highly recommend it (or its equivalent in your city). I delivered the maximum number of boxes for their minimum charge, then delivered the rest (also to their maximum) to their “community day” shredding event. That’s where they shred stuff from a mobile unit in exchange for a donation to a local charity. This company was super-efficient, professional and friendly. If only everything else could have gone as easily.
- I was surprised to learn that it is not that easy to get rid of books. Ottawa libraries have quantity limits (with rare exceptions) as do used book stores. I ended up giving away the books we are not taking by using a combination of trips to my local library (and sneaking in more than the maximum when the staff weren’t looking), and school and charity book sales. For the latter, timing is everything. I gave away Paul’s ancient engineering textbooks (about 20 of them) on Kijiji for free and had lots of takers, but that’s the only way to move books of that sort. Be prepared that if you have books that have value, it can take time to divest of them.
- I have used Kijiji, usedottawa.com and a few other online classifieds with mixed results. The process involves preparing the item for sale (setting it up and cleaning it up), writing a description, taking photos, preparing the posting, then managing responses. The pictures are important; to get decent ones, you need to have a non-distracting backdrop and decent lighting which can be tricky, especially for outdoor stuff. I now have a whole new appreciation for good catalogue photography. Once you post your item, you wait and hope for bites. Sometimes you get lots, in which case you have to wade through them and decide which ones seem legit and worth following up. Of course there is an expectation of negotiating, but those low-ball offers can be really annoying. Not all buyers will ask their questions all at once, which can mean multiple contacts. I’ve heard of buyers showing up with less cash on them than agreed upon. And of course, there are the safety issues around having a stranger come into your house. You have to decide when the item is really worth it.
- We had a “Shopping Party” on the Saturday afternoon before Paul left permanently for Hong Kong. Basically it was an indoor garage sale for friends, and friends of friends. It was great! I had wine and nibblies on hand, and it was a great chance to see some people and say a few good-byes. I got rid of lots of stuff and know everything went to good homes. That tactic was a winner. Thanks to our friends Vic and Sue for helping organize it.
- I’m toying with the idea of doing a real garage sale but would love to avoid it if I can. I have items that would be fine for such an event, but it’s a fair bit of work and time. I’m hoping to move the remaining items through direct contacts and online re-sale sites. We’ll see if that works.
- I like the free-cycling sites. Trashnothing.com has both “offers” and “wants”. It’s great replying to the “wants”, which are so diverse, and those people really want or need those items. I have also donated items to family centres, immigrant agencies, women’s shelters, churches, the Salvation Army, electronics recyclers and Ottawa’s Value Village which pays its partner charities based on the number of boxes of merchandise delivered. There are myriad such sources in every community, and far too many people who really need those donations.
Dinner conversations with my daughter, who works in retail during the summer, are now all about “So what did you sell today?” Many people have said they envy me, doing a purge like this; they know they need to do the same thing but can’t get started. Some people call this “liberating” and revel in how it makes you feel so much lighter. Mmmm, not so much. However, I highly recommend everyone do a purge REGULARLY. If you ignore those over-stuffed closets and cupboards; if you just hate to part with that high school jacket; if you think you must hang on to that particular thing because it might have value some day – think again. Through all of this, I have learned that if you don’t make decisions about what stays and what goes, someone else will; that if you really have things of value, allow plenty of time to divest of them; and that your stuff is worth SQUAT when you try to sell it to someone else.
The moral of the story is: purge regularly and purge thoroughly because you never know when you might have to move to Hong Kong.